The Little Things November 20, 2011
We gave them the ball at our 2.
We gave them the ball at our 30.
We gave them the ball at our 39.
We gave them the ball at our 45.
And so we lost.
I’m so tired of writing stuff like this. I’m tired of looking up these statistics. I’m tired of perusing box scores looking for bad stuff. But here we are again. And this box score doesn’t need much perusing. The whole game can be explained on the drive chart:
Wisconsin had 7 drives start in their own territory. Those drives started at the 20, the 5, the 29, the 36, the 29, the 31, and the 19. From those drives, Wisconsin scored zero points.
Wisconsin had 4 drives that started in our territory. The aforementioned 2, 30, 39, and 45. From these drives, they scored 28 points. Game set match.
For the 14th consecutive game, our defense played well enough for us to win. Whoa. That thought just hit me like a ton of bricks. 14 straight games that Koenning’s boys have put us in a position to win. And we just lost our 5th consecutive game.
You know what? I need to stop. You know all of this already. I’m no longer informing – I’m harping. And that team played really, really hard today. They came out on fire and dominated the first half against a very good football team. Jeff Allen tweeted after the game “left it all on the field”, and he did. The offensive line did. The offense outgained Wisconsin. The defense held the Badgers 214 yards under their average. Effort wasn’t the issue today. Turnovers were the issue.
We fumbled 5 times, but got pretty lucky and only lost 1. But we threw 3 interceptions. And we muffed a punt at our 2. And we took points off the board (again) with a penalty. And we didn’t play the wind correctly. And a hundred other little things that make the big things obsolete.
If there’s an epitaph that can be written for the now-certainly-over Zook regime, it’s that. We never did any of the little things well. So despite a pretty good offense here and a pretty solid defense there, Zook’s teams are now a collective 34-50 mostly because they were never properly instructed on how to win games with just the little things.
+ Man the first half was fun. Donovonn Young running HARD. Nathan accurate on the short throws (I think we was 13-15 at one point). Reilly O’Toole looking in command for his series’. Converting fourth and long plays that I can’t ever remember us converting. The crowd was into the game, and the players responded.
And then we emerge from the locker room completely flat. The sideline wasn’t as fired up. From the moment Darius Millines fumbled, not another thing went right. Our second half drives ended as follows: fumble, interception, punt, interception, interception.
I’m back to harping, aren’t I?
+ The two best linebackers in the Big Ten were on display today. Chris Borland of Wisconsin had 16 tackles (1.5 TFL) with 2 forced fumbles.
Not to be outdone, Bad News Brown had 10 tackles (4 TFL) with a sack, a QB hurry, and a 28 yard fumble return. He now has 18.5 tackles for loss on the season, which puts him 8th on the single season Illini TFL list. And that’s in only 10 games. I swear if he had played against Indiana he’d have 29 TFL’s by now.
If Jonathan Brown isn’t a first team All Big Ten linebacker this year, something’s wrong with the system.
+ Speaking of defense, I asked this question on Twitter, but I’ll pose it again. Is this the best Illini defense in the last 25 years? It’s either #1 or #2, that much is certain. The question is whether it’s better than 1994. I’d say 1994 has a slight edge right now, just because of the 4 NFL linebackers. To have two Butkus winners on the same defense was something special.
But say this defense holds Minnesota to 219 yards and 9 points next weekend. Their stats would be right up there with our 1994 defense, right? And given what this team has had to face, with an offense turning the ball over and punting it away, this might be the best defensive effort in Illini Football history. And we’re 6-5. Yep, the 1994 parallels keep on comin’.
+ When I type out my resume to submit for Head Football Coach at University of Illinois, I think I will solely concentrate on the wind. That part of the cover letter will go like this:
Wind. It plays a role in 60% of the games played in Memorial Stadium. There are no hills in east central Illinois, and because of that, the wind rolls in off the plains unabated. And the design of the stadium doesn’t help – the balconies concentrate the wind towards the center of the field.
As head football coach, I will make that wind my obsession. The wind is there for nearly every October and November game, so when those games arrive, my team will have an advantage.
I will have had my quarterbacks work on giving it a little extra and taking a little off. I will train my punters to read the flags and set their angle accordingly. And my returners – yes, I will pull my returners out to practice on a windy day, put them on the turf inside the stadium, and have each and every one of them learn how far a ball will drift (or die) because of the wind. My kickoff returners will be ready at the 20 instead of the 8, my punt returners will never let a ball sail over their heads, and my field goal units will be well-versed in the wind swirl that sometimes happens at the south endzone.
What do you think? Do I have a good shot? I hear the job might be coming open soon.